Ministry of External Affairs : Important Updates

Clearance to Politicians for Foreign Travels


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Read the attached story

Central Idea

  • A Delhi State Minister has moved the court seeking directions for the government to decide on granting her political clearance before it is too late.
  • Earlier, Delhi CM’s participation to attend the World Cities Summit in 2022 was due to delayed political clearance by the Centre.

Understanding Political Clearance

  • Political clearance is issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and is required for public servants and government officials traveling abroad.
  • Applications for political clearance can be made through the portal since 2016.
  • The decision on political clearance considers various factors, including the nature of the event, level of participation, invitation, and India’s relations with the host country.

(1) Process for CMs and State Ministers to Travel Abroad

  • Informing the cabinet: The Cabinet Secretariat’s circular of May 6, 2015, mandates informing the Cabinet Secretariat and Ministry of External Affairs about proposed foreign visits by CMs and State Ministers.
  • Mandatory nature: Prior political clearance and FCRA clearance are mandatory for such visits.
  • Application process: The application for clearance must be sent to the Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs (DEA).

(2) For other Ministers and Parliamentarians

  • Union ministers require clearance from the Prime Minister’s Office in addition to political clearance from the MEA for official and personal trips abroad.
  • Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members need clearance from the Speaker and Chairperson respectively, only for official trips.
  • Government employees, depending on their rank and delegation type, require approval from the Minister concerned or a screening committee of secretaries.

(3) Application to Judges

  • Judges of the Supreme Court and state High Courts must send their proposals to the Department of Justice after obtaining clearance from the Chief Justice of India.
  • Approval from the MEA and, in certain cases, the Home Ministry is required.
  • Delhi High Court has struck down guidelines on judges’ personal travel in the past.

Debates surrounding political clearance

  • In his early term, PM Modi held meetings with Union department secretaries to discuss the issue.
  • Calls have been made to change the “dilatory system” of MEA clearing travel proposals by officials.
  • The MEA has asserted its prerogative in deciding the suitability, desirability, and level of participation of Indian officials in engagements abroad.

Reasons for Political Clearance Denials

  • The inappropriateness of direct correspondence: The MEA may consider direct correspondence between a diplomatic mission and a state government as inappropriate, leading to denial of clearance for a visit.
  • Substantive and protocol considerations: Concerns may arise regarding the substantive and protocol aspects of a CM’s visit, which could influence the decision to deny political clearance.
  • Unsuitability or undesirability: The nature of the event or the level of participation from other countries might be deemed unsuitable or undesirable for a CM’s visit, resulting in denial of clearance.
  • Special consideration challenges: Concerned agencies may face challenges in providing special consideration to a Chief Minister’s visit, considering substantive and protocol angles.
  • Prevailing circumstances: The prevailing circumstances, including diplomatic relations with the host country or other relevant factors, can play a role in the decision to deny political clearance.
  • National security concerns: In certain cases, national security considerations may lead to the denial of political clearance for an official visit.
  • Lack of sufficient justification: If the purpose or justification provided for the visit is not deemed sufficient, the political clearance request may be denied.

Importance of Political Clearance

  • Ensures effective representation and protection of India’s interests abroad.
  • Maintains diplomatic relations and adheres to established protocols.
  • Balances security concerns with the need for international engagements.

Implications for diplomacy

  • Denial of political clearance can impact bilateral and multilateral relationships.
  • Strengthens cooperation and dialogue between countries.
  • Builds trust and goodwill through smooth facilitation of visits and engagements.

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